‘Everything will be done’ to protect Lourdes pilgrims

While summer events have been cancelled across France, one that will go ahead is the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes for the feast of Assumption on August 15th. Authorities have vowed everything will be done to protect pilgrims.

'Everything will be done' to protect Lourdes pilgrims
Photo: AFP

There may well be a climate of tension in France but not everyone is giving in to fear.

While authorities around France have been cancelling summer events over security concerns, authorities in the Catholic pilgrimage town of Lourdes are insistent that life must go on as normal.

August 15th marks the annual feast of the Assumption, one of the biggest dates on the calendar for the famous town in south west France, with thousands of pilgrims descending on the shrines each year for a mass and procession.

Local authorities would have been forgiven for cancelling the event following the brutal murder of a Catholic priest in northern France last month, but Béatrice Lagarde, the prefect of the Hautes-Pyrénees département said officials were convinced the pilgrimage must continue as normal.

“The choice was made to not ban the event, nor the procession or the rituals that go with the pilgrimage, because it is the right of the faithful to access Lourdes,” Lagarde told Europe1 radio.

“However everything will be done to secure the place,” she said.

Catherine Simcox, who made a pilgrimage from the north east of England to Lourdes earlier this month described the heightened security.

“By Thursday morning, there were armed guards inside the sanctuaries and then the gates became single file entry (with metal barriers) with bags being searched on the way in.” she told The Local.

“This total freaked my three kids out who are used to Lourdes & it was hard to not scare them when they asked why it was happening,” she said.

“It didn't spoil my experience, but it saddened me that it was necessary and I understood that some people were reassured by the measures.”

A ring of security will remain in place at Lourdes around the sanctuary until Tuesday August 16th.

Normally Lourdes is accessed by 12 different points of entry however that will be reduced to three for the August 15th event.

And as might be expected pilgrims will have their bags systematically searched on entry.

Waste bins have been replaced with clear plastic bags and the streets around the sanctuary will be banned to cars at lunch times and in the evening to reassure those present.

The big mass annual mass will take place as usual on August 15th. Normally some 25,000 attend but fears of terror attacks may see reduced numbers this year.

Other events however have been adapted such as the procession which will only take place now within the security cordon.

Between August 11th and 24th some 250 police and paramilitary officers will be tasked with providing security.

On the top of that, Lagarde says there will also be dozens of soldiers, police motorcycle teams and a bomb disposal unit.

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US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.